New initiative aims to help Detroit police respond to mental health crises

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Detroit police squad car. - STEVE NEAVLING
  • Steve Neavling
  • Detroit police squad car.

The city of Detroit launched a new initiative to help police, 911 operators, and housing advocates respond to people struggling with mental illness.

The partnership with the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network (DWIHN) is designed to de-escalate potential confrontations, identify people with mental health needs, and direct them to support services.



As part of the initiative, police officers will be trained in responding to mental health crises. In some cases, behavior health specialists will respond with police to calls involving people with mental health issues.

The police department responds to an average of 20 mental health-related calls a day, many of them involving weapons or potentially violent people.



“I believe this collaborative relationship will allow us to not only have more time to deal with other issues, but able to save lives proactively,” Detroit Police Chief James Craig said at a news conference Monday.

A nationwide study in 2015 found that people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by police than other civilians.

Instead of jailing people with mental illnesses, the goal is to direct many of them to treatment and other resources.

“We understand that interactions with people with mental illness is a regular occurrence in our city,” Craig said. “We can only succeed in addressing this issue by working with organizations and leaders across our community. This is not a problem we can arrest our way out of, nor is jail the proper treatment facility for people suffering with mental illness.”

Behavioral health specialists also would be embedded at 911 centers to help communicate with people in a mental health crisis and offer them support services.

“These efforts should reduce overall incarceration and hospitalization costs and provide better treatment options to the people we serve,” Willie E. Brooks, Jr. President and CEO of DWIHN said. “Jail diversion and homeless outreach lead to connections to treatment. This pilot is more than just training, it is a culture and community shift that bridges the gap between the law enforcement and behavioral health sectors.”

Another component of the initiative is help get shelter for homeless people with mental illnesses.

"This is the kind of program that has been badly needed and talked about for years but never implemented by anyone until now,” Mayor Mike Duggan said. “I'm so proud of the work that has been put into this from DWIHN, DPD and our department of housing and revitalization. Because of the lack of institutional mental health support, police officers have been put into the position of being mental health responders."

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